Warm Weather Boosts Demand for Spring Merchandise
Retailers and those investors who own their shares may want to thank the weather for a surge in demand for full-price spring merchandise that is one of the factors contributing to what Thomson Reuters expects will be a 3.4% gain in same-store sales for February over year-ago levels. Consumers who didn’t want to pay the full retail price also bolstered sales by snapping up bargains offered by retailers during Valentine’s Day and President’s Day weekend sales events.
Although this would be slightly below last February’s 4.0% gain in SSS, this increase would be a significant advance in the context of as the monthly gains in the Thomson Reuters Same Store Sales Index, which ranged from 3% to 5% during 2011. A reading of 3.0% signals that US consumers are feeling affluent enough to spend. That makes this forecast an even more robust indicator for the sector, particularly impressive given that it on top of difficult year-ago comparison. But that aggregate figure masks a wide dispersion in same-store sales figures, which we expect to range from declines at Wet Seal to significant increases from high-end department stores.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect most sectors of the retail industry to post positive February SSS, and are predicting that discounters will show the biggest gains of as much as 6.3% in same-store sales. Excluding Gap, the Apparel sector seems likely to be February’s second strongest performer, with same-store sales increasing 5.9%, followed by the Department stores, with an expected gain of 2.8%. A few standouts have managed to significantly outperform their peers and the industry as a whole, including Costco, TJX Companies, Inc., and Limited Brands. (For more details, see exhibit 2, below.) Costco beat expectations; posting a robust 8.0% advance in SSS that matched its increase in SSS in February 2011. We expect Limited Brands to post one of the strongest February SSS among the industry, a 6.2% gain, thanks to Valentine’s Day sales at its Victoria Secret division. (We believe that SSS could climb 8.6% at that division alone.)
The Discount sector appears likely to emerge as February’s outperformer within the retail industry. The group’s forecast 6.2% growth in same-store sales beats the 4.9% jump it posted in February 2011. Target seems likely to post a gain of 5.2% in same-store sales, thanks in part to a new, limited-edition line by fashion designer Jason Wu that has been available to Target shoppers this month. We expect Fred’s to post a 0.2% advance.
The pace of growth in SSS seen by Department Stores seems to be slowing somewhat from year-ago levels, and we now expect the group to record a 2.8% increase in same-store sales for February compared to its 4.9% jump in SSS in February 2011. The pattern of high-end stores generating the most impressive gains in same-store sales remains intact. We expect JW Nordstrom to post a 5.6% and Saks, finishing the month only very slightly behind, to record a 5.5% gain. (That still falls below last February’s gains of 7.3% and 15.3%, respectively.) We believe Macy’s likely will register a 3.5% comp for February 2012, below the 5.8% gain recorded in February 2011. On the flip side, Kohl’s is still struggling; analysts expect it to register the weakest result in the group and to report that its February same-store sales were flat. Analysts call for Stage Stores to post a relatively lackluster increase in SSS of 1.5%.
We expect the Apparel sector to post some strong results, particularly when compared with the sizeable gains in same-store sales reported a year ago. The group as a whole is likely to report a 3.7% gain in same-store sales, compared to the 3.2% level recorded in February 2011. But if we exclude apparel index heavyweight and perennial weakling Gap Inc. from the calculations, those figures improve; apparel retailers could see a 5.9% jump in SSS, slightly ahead of the 5.7% gain posted in February 2011. For its part, Gap Inc. is expected to report a 1.4% decline in same-store sales.
Retailers who offer lower priced or discount merchandise will likely register some of the healthiest comps within the sector. We expect the TJX Companies, Inc., and Ross, for instance, to post gains of 7.0% (vs. 3.0% for February 2011) and 4.6% (vs. 3.0% for February 2011), respectively, in SSS for February 2012. Limited Brands is facing difficult year-ago SSS comparison, however; analysts project that the retailer will register growth of 6.2% in same-store sales, well below the 12.0% jump it recorded in February 2011. Its Victoria’s Secret division remains the company’s strongest business unit; as noted above, we expect the latter’s same-store sales to climb 8.6%. While Gap is by far the weakest player in this universe, Stein Mart also is struggling. The retailer’s forecast 1.0% growth in same-store sales lags the 8.2% jump it posted in February 2011.
The Teen Apparel sector may have posted some sizeable gains in same-store sales a year ago at this time, but this February we expect its results to be far more anemic. The group as a whole is likely to report that same store sales edged lower by 0.0% during the month, compared to the 6.5% gain in SSS recorded in February 2011. Wet Seal weighs on the sector; the company is likely to see SSS fall 9.0%. On the other hand, The Buckle is doing well and likely to post the best gain in SSS among this group – a 5.8% advance. Other likely outperformers within the group include Zumiez, with an expected SSS gain of 5.1%, although that pales in comparison with its 12.8% jump in SSS recorded a year ago. Still, the jump in sales is good news for investors and our proprietary StarMine SmartEstimate score suggests that Zumiez is likely to post earnings for the first quarter of 2012 that are higher than the current consensus estimate by analysts. (See Exhibit 3)
While higher gasoline prices continue to weigh on the willingness and ability of consumers to go shopping, that appears to be offset in part by the latest macroeconomic data in the US that show that the jobs market is improving slowly but steadily. “Consumers have shrugged off concerns about rising gas prices, the European crisis, and election year politics, preferring to focus on the favorable impact of job growth,” said Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist, in the Thomson Reuters/ University of Michigan Survey of Consumers. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers advanced in February, in response to reports of improving rates of job creation. (Exhibit 4). Moreover, the unemployment rate is showing signs of stabilizing at a slightly lower level; economists expect it remained unchanged in February at 8.3%. This could help boost consumer confidence – and retail sales — and generate further economic growth as we move forward into 2012.